Yesterday, the farthest-right congressional Republicans decided it was time to call in the troops. Facing criticism from all sides that they've been too extreme, too irresponsible, too unyielding, and too crazy in the debt limit fight, they decided that a show of force was necessary. What they got instead was a sad little metaphor for their own delusions of popularity.
It had all the makings of a big time tea party rally: Presidential candidate Herman Cain, conservative Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah all showed up outside the Capitol Wednesday to urge members to “hold the line” against a deficit reduction compromise.
The only thing missing? A big audience.
At the start of the rally, which was organized by the American Grassroots Coalition and Tea Party Express, there were roughly 15 attendees waiting to hear the conservative lawmakers speak. By the time the senators had spoken there were still fewer than 50 tea partiers in attendance.
"My Republican leadership in the House is doing a great job. Imagine having to negotiate with Barack Obama. Imagine having to negotiate with Harry Reid. Give John Boehner, give Eric Cantor all the credit in the world," Rep. Joe Walsh told what, for lack of a better word, I'll go ahead and call a "crowd," "But embolden them. Let them know that the American people are ready for a real reform. They need your help. We need your help."
It's a thought, but I really doubt that a few dozen people are going to do the trick.
And this points out one of the problems facing the Tea Party faction in particular and the Republican Party in general -- they claim to speak for the American people, but they don't. There's a reason why Republicans keep citing the 2010 elections as evidence of what the American people want. And that reason is that, since then, there really hasn't been a lot of evidence that the people want what Republicans are selling at all. They used to be able to organize huge rallies, but that was really just a fad. When you offer simple solutions to complex problems, it doesn't take long for people to lose interest in the process. People start talking about debt limit negotiation, whip counts in the House, and the nation's bond ratings and their eyes glaze over. Turns out it wasn't so simple after all. Disappointment mixes with sheer boredom and they wander off, their attention spans spent. Because, let's face it, people who demand simple solutions demand them for a reason. That reason is not that they have the patience for the complexities of reality.
As things stand today, no one is really winning the public opinion war, but Republicans are definitely losing it. Gallup reports that approval for President Obama is at 45%, congressional Democrats at 33%, and congressional Republicans at 28%. Republican populism is missing that whole "popular" part.
Even among Republicans, support for the party is weak. Where 82% of Democrats approve of Obama and 73% approve of dems in congress, only 57% of Republican voters feel the same way about the GOP. So I guess a Tea Party rally with a crowd numbering in the dozens doesn't come as much of a surprise.
Intended as a show of strength, their rally demonstrated only their weakness.